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Photo Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Freedom

Ken Hitchcock wasn’t brought in and put behind the bench in place of Todd McLellan to worry about what happens with the Edmonton Oilers down the road. His gig is here and now. We got another example of that in his post-game availability at the Xcel Energy Center after Thursday’s 4-1 win over the Minnesota Wild when Hitchcock was asked about this goaltending.

With his ear still stinging from being hit by a puck – not to mention the slang Cam Talbot directed his way after getting the hook in a third-period collapse against the Chicago Blackhawks – a 35-save performance by Talbot had Hitchcock answering questions about who’ll get the crease against the San Jose Sharks Saturday.

If it’s Talbot between the pipes against the Sharks, as I suspect it will be, it’ll mark the fourth time in five games that Hitchcock will have gone with him over Mikko Koskinen, who got a three-year contract worth $13.5 million when Peter Chiarelli already had one foot out the door. If going with Talbot doesn’t sit well with the brain trust upstairs, oh well. That’s not Hitchcock’s concern. He coaches. They manage.

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Those worried about optics, who think it looks bad to freeze Koskinen, the goaltender the organization just committed to for three more years, on the bench, can have at it. To those suggesting it shows a disconnect, maybe so. Is that actually a negative, given the decisions we’ve seen from Chiarelli and the management group as a whole in recent years? Right or wrong, Hitchcock’s mandate is to win right now and he’s going to do it his way.

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IN THE MOMENT

Nov 20, 2018; San Jose, CA, USA; Edmonton Oilers head coach Ken Hitchcock watches the game against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

“Solid again,” Hitchcock said of Talbot, who was terrific for 40 minutes against Chicago before the wheels fell off. “You know, like this is every night. He gives us a chance to win. I thought the guys played hard for him and he played hard for them. He’s got a little bit of confidence going right now, so that’s a good sign.”

Asked by Post Media’s Jim Matheson about going with the guy who isn’t signed past this season while Koskinen sits, Hitchcock said: “People talk about next year, whatever going on, I’m talking about next day. All I’m concerned about is next day, so whoever I think gives me the next chance, that’s what we’re going to go with. I don’t care. If one guy gets on a roll, I don’t care which guy it is, he’s the guy that’s going to have to play.” The entire post-game interview is here.

The juxtaposition between the small picture, winning games and enjoying success now, and the big picture, developing players and building a team that is capable of becoming a legitimate contender for more than a playoff spot, makes for great debate. Success with the former doesn’t guarantee the latter – especially if a team mortgages the future for a one-and-done post-season to appease fans or an unhappy owner. The best organizations find a way to strike a balance. The Oilers haven’t managed that for decades.

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Brought out of retirement for the rest of the season when McLellan was sacked, Hitchcock won’t be around to see how the long-game unfolds three years down the road. Undoing the damage done and organizational deficits created by Chiarelli could take that long, but that’s up to whoever inherits Chiarelli’s job, not Hitchcock.

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END OF THE LINE

Hitchcock is 67. He doesn’t need this gig, although running the bench here in his hometown is something he’s always wanted. He doesn’t need the money. Hitchcock is third in NHL career coaching wins. He’s got a Stanley Cup ring and a Jack Adams Award. His legacy is secure. Hitchcock doesn’t have to deviate from doing what he thinks is right to appease his bosses. There’s a measure of freedom in that.

If Hitchcock thinks he has a better chance to win by not playing Ryan Spooner, Brandon Manning or Alex Petrovic or by playing Talbot in front of Koskinen right now, that’s what he’ll do. That doesn’t mean he’s always right – there’s still much debate about why Jesse Puljujarvi is here if he isn’t even going to play 10 minutes a night. The Oilers pooched Puljujarvi’s development long before Hitchcock arrived, so I get the frustration by fans, but if Hitchcock thought his team was better with Puljujarvi playing more minutes, he’d be playing more minutes.

Hitchcock’s only timeline is the next day. Win Saturday.

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Previously by Robin Brownlee


  • ed from edmonton

    Normally when the coach ‘goes rogue’ and plays from a different song sheet than the GM hoe’s out the door. But the Oil are not really a professional organization. Hitch knows he can do whatever he wants.

  • Arfguy

    Not all that impressed with Hitchcock. He may have systems in his mind, but I think his style of coaching is outdated. I’m looking forward to seeing someone else behind the bench next season.

    • Their has been some decent hockey played lately, and some really bad third periods. The inconsistency on this team is at most times embarrassing.

      Playing Talbot is definitely a showcase. Remember that if he goes on a run and hope a contender has a keeper go down.
      Anybody else notice that the whistle is starting to go in the refs pocket. As games more important they are letting them play. We need to take advantage of this, Starting with the Sharks.

    • Big Nuggets

      I think you might have unrealistic expectations of what a coach can do. The Oilers problems come from a huge lack of depth, not much Hitch or any coach can do abiut that. Ithink the team will look much better down the stretch with Klef and potentially Sek added to the mix. This team was running Brad Malone as a 3rd line center, an AHLer in your most important bottom 6 position is not ideal. Unfortunately we would be a better team with Strome and Caggiula in the mix at this point.

  • Natejax97

    I for one am glad Talbot had a great game. He is a standup guy. Watching what his family did to rally the troops in the wake of the Texas floods was nothing short of a remarkable community story overshadowed by a rough patch between the pipes. Edmonton is not an easy place to play. Hardest position is in net and scrutiny is always at an all time high when things don’t go well. Wherever Talbot ends up I will always be a fan and wish him nothing but success. Go Oilers!! Good luck with the push for the playoffs. As for Hitch…whatever it takes…do it. Whatever he leaves behind… let it be a will to win and a drive to achieve.

    • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

      I saw his pre-game comments and 90% of the responses on Twitter were supportive of him. I’m tired of the guy getting beat up on. Could he have played better at time, absolutely, but when you have a defence core that would make Bobrovsky’s numbers nosedive, how many more times are we going to blame the goalie? Cam is a stand up guy and where he goes, I know he’ll be successful.

      • Arfguy

        A couple of months back, there was a sentiment that McDavid would not be able to catch Rantanen. I chimed in and thought that McDavid would have a hard time keeping up with Rantanen, since Rantanen and MacKinnon are a really strong combo and McDavid has hardly had consistent wingers.

        I cannot remember the person who was adamant McDavid would be able to keep pace and maybe take over, but just admitting now: that guy was right. McDavid is something else! Draisaitl is having a career year.

        • Goaltender Interference

          The last couple years Connor has shown nothing but consistency in his points total plus and insane over-drive that cranks it up in the last quarter of the season. For at least the last few seasons, the high-fliers in the points race at the beginning of the year haven’t been able to keep up towards the end when McDavid finds his next gear.

          There wasn’t any reason to suspect this season would be any different. Connors dragged this team towards respectability before and will take it on his back again this season.

          Now imagine what he could do in the points race with a legitimate top 6 beside him…

  • JasonY

    This organization is a mind-boggling of complete arrogance/ignorance/ and downright idiotic. The “Bob Stuaffers” of the world claim that the old boys on the bus are not involved in daily/transaction and that Chiarelli truly made all the decisions. While I agree that Chiarelli ultimately made the final decision, I don’t believe Bob Stauffer saying there’s no boys on the bus effect. Craig MacTavish and Howson are still employed and were assistant managers. I find it hard to believe that Gretzky, Coffey, Lowe don’t put their “2 cents” in during the red wine summit meetings.

    You cannot convince me that trading for Reinhart without actually seeing the player was not the result of old boys club/ Oil King connections effect on Chiarelli. Signing Koskinen to big money for half a year on a hot run for that term is another glimpse of stupidity that still exists within this organization.

    Keith Gretzky has done a good job in drafting. But I worry that his efforts are now focused on running as a full time interim general manger. This not only takes away from the drafting department which I think would suffer to at least some extent, but also doesn’t necessarily equate to him being a good manager.

      • ed from edmonton

        It wasn’t just the D. At the end of the MacT reign of error, The Centers were RNH, Derek Roy (who payed in Europe the next year), Anton Ladner (also on his way to Europe), amd Boy Gordon. Goalies through most of the 14/15 season were Victor Fasth (also going back to Europe), Ben Scrivens (guess what now in the KHL). Some people think fondly of MacT but the 14/15 Oilers were closer to a KHL team than NHL. Only the other teams going full tank for McD kept them out of the basement. Scarey thing was that MacT wasn’t trying to tank.

  • JariCurry

    Puljaarvi……the number of times he opts out of a hit drives me INSANE. He is a big man and could really have his way out there. I don’t get it. That’s not development. I would call it heart, and he only shows glimpses of it. He could destroy guys, but seems to play afraid. I want nothing but for him to get it together because I see the potential.
    Good game by the boys last night. I live in Van and for all the crap I hear on the radio trashing the oilers, I would love to see the oil take that spot from the Canucks.
    The season is still alive and if the team can get their act together it could be an interesting run. I’ve been happy with the past 4 games minus the end of game meltdowns. Get the swagger back and see what happens.

  • camdog

    One word to describe this season for me is “disconnect”. Coaches vs Management, the relationship between the 2 groups doesn’t seem normal, regardless of the people involved.

    • Canoe Ride 27

      Hitch was always a coach I kind of hated because he beat us a lot, but I always respected. Now I have developed an admiration for the guy. One of the bright spots in another difficult run.

      The players should feel honored to play this guy and work their butts of for him.

  • Rama Lama

    Hitchcock will not survive a new GM…….we all know how new GM’s bring in their own people. I like Hitch as he explains things like no other, if nothing else he convinces me each and ever time that he has the answers to move this team forward.

    I’m not sure what he will accomplish long term but I’m enjoying his honest assessments after each game.

    • fasteddy

      I also enjoyed that about MacT; he faced the music and more often than not had comments that were insightful and felt like he had a handle on things. I personally do not subscribe to the idea his comment ruined Dubnyk; DD’s play was suspect long before the comment. Not to mention if a player’s psyche is that fragile that one public remark will derail them then they really aren’t that capable to begin with.

      • ed from edmonton

        Insightfull!!! I think either distance makes the heart grow fonder or you are impressed by people who use big word because it makes them sound smart. MacT is a case in point of “a little learning is a dangerous thing”. He got this executive MBA and loved to use management lingo, although I doubt if he really understand what the big word mean. I recall after the 1st Eakins season at the year end availability MAct stating how impressed he was with Eakins because of his “constant messaging”. He must have used “constant messaging” 10 times that day. “Constant Messaging” is a mantra taught in business schools and MAcT was pleased with himself that the could work it in. MacT loved to hear himself talk, much like Eakins and impress each other how smart they both were. I would rather have a GM like Doug Wilson he says next to nothing, just does his job very well. P

  • jesse says yep

    This “mortgaging the future” idea is such a falsehood. One prospect, one pick, isn’t the end all be all of an organization. Nor is it the entire picture of the future. No one is talking about giving up multiple picks in the next two drafts or unloading every reasonable prospect in the farm. If a pick and a prospect brings in a player who can produce and bring balance to the lineup I think they have to do it. The negativity that is surrounding this team and the mindset of many Oiler fans after losing for so long is unhealthy and is a hindrance to success. Not a player who is gone in 3 months but ideally they find a player with term or one who shows interest in resigning in the summer. If he is out there for the taking I would go for it. Preparing for the future is smart but living in the present is important too.

    • Big Nuggets

      Well they don’t even have the cap space to ice the full team right now, so any trade idea to bring in a roster player needs to involve a cap dump. Gretzky should be working the phones to dump cap space but the quality of trade proposals from other teams will likely be underwhelming. Especially since every GM has been fleecing Chia for the past 3 years, they probably don’t respect the intelligence of this ‘brain trust’ all that much and will try to continue to lowball all offers.

  • Flynn

    Running with the hot hand in net is nothing new, and isn’t going against management. Management wants the playoffs. I will be happy to see a new coach next year, I believe the players will be also.